How strong is the bond between a consultant and cotton producer? In the Mid-South, it’s hard to imagine how one could survive without the other. In the case of Tim Roberts and Billy Beegle of TennArk Crop Service in Dyersburg, Tenn., some producers would have difficulty surviving a season without these two experts.
Roberts and Beegle are a mainstay in West Tennessee and the Missouri Bootheel. As one might expect, they have seen just about every kind of production problem that has confronted cotton in the last few decades.
As passionate as they are about helping their cotton producer customers, they know that these are challenging times for the industry.
In a nutshell, Roberts and Beegle are trying to convey a sense of urgency to farmers about being proactive in dealing with resistant pigweed. They also never miss an opportunity to tell farmers about the necessity of making smart decisions in all phases of cotton production.
Challenges In West Tennessee
Those decisions can run the gamut of issues – fertility, variety selection, weed resistance, insect control, herbicide programs and irrigation.
Being a cotton producer in West Tennessee can be especially challenging because of the shorter grower season, hilly terrain and susceptibility to flooding from the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
However, the weed resistance problem and variety selection are near the top of the list for Roberts and Beegle.
“Looking back, if we had been a bit more proactive here in West Tenn-essee, we could have probably delayed the weed resistance problem,” says Roberts. “I was probably making excuses on whether we had true resistance. Now that we know more, there is no doubt about it.”
If there is any good news for Roberts and Beegle, it’s that all of their producer customers are aware of the weed resistance problem. The urgency to implement an effective residual herbicide program early in the season is being embraced by most Mid-South farmers.
Big Crowd Attends ‘Pig-Posium’
That was evident when nearly 1,000 producers showed up at the University of Arkansas’ “Pig-Posium” earlier in the summer at Forrest City. The organizers of the meeting were expecting about 400 persons to attend and were overwhelmed by the turnout.
“What I hate to see is when a producer does all the right things and uses all of his weapons against resistant pigweed,” says Beegle. “The next year the field is clean, and the farmer suddenly has a false sense of confidence and gets complacent. We can’t let that happen.”
Another reason for Beegle and Roberts to be vigilant in having their producers attack the weed resistance problem is because of the need for “zero tolerance.”
Even with that attitude, there is no way to completely control the resistant pigweed outbreaks.
“You may think you can gain 100 percent control, but it’s not possible,” says Roberts. “Even if you chop out a field and get every weed that you can see, you’ll miss something.”
Roberts and Beegle also endorse another approach to deal with this problem. They think farmers “should get mad at these weeds.”
“That’s the attitude that we want producers to have,” says Beegle. “We have about four or five growers who are like this. Then we also have some growers who are fearful of the weed and haven’t reached the state of getting mad yet.”
Roberts and Beegle have been known to stop their trucks and go out into a cotton field to pull up a pigweed. That is how much of a priority this problem is for them and their farmers.
This consultant duo also doesn’t try to play favorites when it issues a recommendation on a herbicide program for dealing with pigweed resistance. The list of products is long and usually includes Gramoxone, Direx, Cotoran, Prefix, Warrant and Ignite in various tankmix combinations.
A major concern is with Ignite and Prefix. They are concerned that farmers will misuse these products, and the industry will ultimately lose both herbicides in the future.
“There’s no question that this weed problem is here to stay, and we have to do a non-stop job on it if we want to keep producing cotton in this region,” says Roberts. “This is our major challenge right now.”
Contact Tommy Horton in Memphis, Tenn., at email@example.com or (901) 767-4020.
Producers Need Options When Choosing Varieties
Besides dealing with the weed resistance problem in their region, the second most important job for consultants Billy Beegle and Tim Roberts is variety selection for their farmer customers.
Finding the right variety for a region such as West Tennessee can be difficult in light of hilly terrain, shorter growing season and occasional flooding of the Mississippi River.
Compounding the problem are seed companies that move quickly in launching a commercial variety.
Ideally, consultants would like to observe a variety for two years in on-farm trials before making a recommendation. Today, consultants may not have that luxury and have to make a decision after studying a variety for only one year.
Beegle and Roberts like to recommend about five or six varieties for a producer’s farm. Many considerations are taken into account, such as soil profile and history. Not surprisingly, they are not married to any particular variety or seed company. In fact, they like the idea of having a diverse group of varieties on a farm.
For example, even though Deltapine, Stoneville, Liberty Link and PhytoGen have a presence in West Tennessee, some producers are taking a second look at newcomers such as Americot “in an effort to give themselves some choices.”
“We have seen Americot 1550 do quite well in our region,” says Roberts. “And we’ve even taken a look at the new Americot 1511. It appears to do well on rough ground and can withstand a tough environment. Like I said, it’s just another choice for the farmer. And the more choices a farmer has, the better off he’ll be in the long run.”